Cemetery Renewal Program

Reporter: Graeme Butler

For a place of eternal rest there's a lot of disquiet at Karrakatta cemetery as families discover their relatives headstones have been ripped out, lost or thrown away. Lorraine says "I thought I was in the wrong place I walked around looked everywhere I realised it was all over everything had been demolished" In Lorraine All church's family plot lay the remains of four family members including her mother's ashes interned just two years ago... it was removed by the Karrakatta Cemetery Board. "My mother would be absolutely aghast she would not believe that she was there for two years and her grave was destroyed"

The reason for the removal of the headstones is the cemetery's renewal programme to cope with overcrowding - but the way parts of the programme have been bungled have left relatives reeling. Lorraine says "I'm hurt I'm offended I'm appalled that I had to prove that my family was worthy of retaining it's grave site" In Lorraine's case the cemetery still had the headstones it had removed - but Lorraine still had to prove why her families memorial should be replaced and retained, "he claimed that the decision on my family was line ball - there's nothing line ball about my family or your or his or anyone else's" Lorraine went back to the history books to show her family had links to our pioneering past and the cemetery board agreed to put the headstones back. "And this completely disappeared did it - when I came here to place flowers on my mothers grave after she'd recently died there was nothing just sand I almost passed out I was absolutely devastated because my mother had only recently died and I'd also gone to great lengths to assure myself that this wouldn't happen"

Peter says "the person I saw there advised me that the site was still there and I said sorry it's not everything's gone the three headstones have gone which the oldest one was my grandmother who died in 1918" Peter knew his family grave was earmarked for renewal but was told in a letter it wasn't to be touched until 2007 - when he and his wife turned up at Christmas it was gone, "it was gone there was just nothing there at all just a patch of sand" Peter asked the cemetery board where the headstones were and was told they had crumbled and could no longer be found. "If you'd come down here 15 years ago and taken to a headstone with a whatsaname and a hammer and got caught you'd end up in jail"

"I was so irate I rang up in tears and spoke to the person in charge and he just said there'd been a lack of communication between the office and the workmen" Elaine Linfoot was in the process of having her grandmother's headstone restored by stone mason's - Karrakatta beat them too it - ripping out the headstone. The Cemetery board did pay for a new one to be created and placed it on a new memorial wall.

"Chris Mabbott are you comfortable with the way it's been carried out? I think we've made mistakes I'll make that up front we've made mistakes" Chris Mabbott from Karrakatta say the renewal programme is critical to the cemetery remaining open and is a practice used world wide. "Karrakatta would have to close or would have virtually had to close the gates in 2004 if it hadn't' sought alternatives for the provision of burials, cremations and memorial gardens like we're in now" He says it's important to realise remains are never touched, it the spaces in between that are turned into new graves but that means old headstones need to go. "Should they touch any graves before it has been signed off? I don't know there's a problem with actually touching the graves before it's been signed off but I think there's a requirement on the cemetery board to retain all the materials so that in the event that the person is successful in their submission we can put it back as it was _ but that hasn't happened has it? in some cases no" Families want to know how something so basic could go so terribly wrong. Lorraine says "I think the board needs to have a long hard look at them selves and I think they should halt their renewal programme and have a good look at what they're doing"

For more details visit Grave Renewal Programme

http://www.mcb.wa.gov.au